Tommy (1975)

Tommy (1975)

  • Score: 2/5
  • Genre: 2/5
  • Did I enjoy it: As a critical experience.
  • Did it move me: Far less than I expected or hoped.
  • Rewatch:  If & when NY legalizes marijuana, and I am feeling bored or masochistic.
  • Art/Pop: It really, really wants to be Art, but it’s just druggy.
  • Noteworthy/Significant: Cult classic, or at least it used to be.

Given my love of music and film, how I got to my age with never managing to see classic rock group The Who’s influential (nay, culturally iconic!) “rock opera” Tommy is itself a question of deep sociological significance, like surviving the 70s without hearing the Oscar Meyer Weiner jingle. How unexpected it was to discover that was Kismet, not bad Karma.

Bereft of acid or other mind altering substances, and over 40 years after its release, what is left is 90% songs you have never heard before, half of which sound like 60’s tripe knock offs of Mrs. Brown You Have A Lovely Daughter (don’t ask, the title should be enough), a string of barely connected set pieces forming a loose amateurish narrative, and tons of unintentionally interesting observations and scenes, like Jack Nicholson as a singing professor and 60s icon Ann Margaret rolling around in skimpy cloths in imaginary Heinz Baked Beans. At least I now know why the post WWII set thought she was hot, so I guess I’ve got that going for me.

My other game was seeing how many set scenes were weak knock offs or inspirations from better films, like the wired up pre-awakening Tommy looking like a Rocky Horror Picture Show homage to A Clockwork Orange meets La Jetee, and did I detect an If… reference in Daltry peering down at the kids from rooftops, or was that merely my mind wandering? It’s okay, since he became Jesus Christ Superstar in the end.

I do like that the film uses unique, rather than studio, versions of the songs, sung by the actual actors (or as alternate takes by Daltry), which is a nice touch, and gives us neat stuff like the young Elton John’s Pinball Wizard.  And the actors seem to be trying (the surprise Tina Turner appearance was fun, if overwrought), even Roger Daltry, bless his heart, but what the hell can you do spending an hour sitting on the bar of a sit-hang-glider on a sound stage, looking at your feet and lip-synching? Oh, was that only ten minutes? Oops.

Within seven years we would have both Pink Floyd’s stunning The Wall and The Who’s own vastly superior Quadrophenia.  Films like The Beatle’s A Hard Day’s Night survive the decades as cheesy fun. Tommy is just cheese.

Review Date: 06/22/2019

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